The Fred Hoiberg-coached and Jimmy Butler-led Chicago Bulls went 41-41 in 2016-17, made the playoffs, and lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics. It’s a little weird that a franchise in a city as basketball crazed as Chicago hasn’t been back since, but that has been the case, with the Bulls coming up short in each of the last four years. This has appeared to be front of mind for everyone over the last 12 months, as the team brought in a new coach with plenty of playoff success in Billy Donovan and swung a number of big moves — both at the trade deadline in 2021 and this post offseason — with the hopes of breaking that rather unfortunate streak. Now, there are real expectations in the Windy City, and one question looms above all: can they get the job done?
Devon Dotson (two-way)
Projected Vegas Win Total: 41.5 wins
Biggest Addition: DeMar DeRozan
A whole lot of new faces came to the Windy City this offseason. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso are backcourt reinforcements, while Derrick Jones Jr. should give them added bounce and athleticism in the frontcourt. But the biggest name is easily DeRozan, who the Bulls hope will help them go from a team that thinks it could make the play-in to one that should make the postseason outright. It is hard not to get excited about the 1-2 punch of he and Zach LaVine, with both dudes capable of (and quite good at) creating for themselves and others.
Biggest Loss: Thaddeus Young
Young was sent to San Antonio in the deal that landed DeMar DeRozan. While Lauri Markkanen scored more points per game last year, it is safe to say that the team wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to keep him around based on the circumstances of his departure. Young, meanwhile, would have been a very, very good connecting piece on this team on both ends of the floor, as he’d add some more playmaking and interior scoring on offense with his usually solid defense on the other.
Biggest Question: Can they defend anywhere near well enough?
Chicago’s offense isn’t just going to be good, it has the potential to be awesome. Teams do not usually have the amount of perimeter talent the Bulls will boast, while Nikola Vucevic is about as reliable a bucket as any big man in the league. It’s hard not to get excited about the thought of the team getting out and running, with the trio of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, and DeMar DeRozan demolishing teams in transition, while DeRozan will give them another halfcourt creator alongside LaVine.
There’s a whole heck of a lot, though, placed on Billy Donovan’s ability to build a defense and second-year forward Patrick Williams’ ability on that end of the floor against the league’s premier wing players. They’re both pretty good bets, just like it’s a pretty good bet that some of their less-than-stellar defenders will compete on that end. Rim protection with Vucevic is a major question and DeRozan isn’t exactly going to clamp opponents, but with how they should be able to score, Chicago might be able to get away with being slightly below average on that end. Anything worse, though, would cause headaches.
What Makes This Season A Success: Making the playoffs and being competitive once there
Chicago went about as all-in as they could have, all things considered, with an eye on getting back to the postseason, and while the Eastern Conference is going to be very, very good, the Bulls have enough talent that they should be able to get there. Might it require the play-in tournament as its path to the playoffs? It’s possible, but Chicago has not seen playoff basketball out of its NBA team since 2017. We’ll bet they’d be happy with anything while simultaneously not looking totally lost once there.
What Makes This Season A Failure: Missing the postseason altogether and losing Zach LaVine
It’s the opposite of the last section, obviously, but with an added twist. LaVine is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and has made clear that getting “respect” is “the main thing” he wants from the Bulls. There’s no dollar sign on that, but is there one if the Bulls once again fall short, and LaVine is still left looking for his first career playoff berth?